As any parent knows, time is more often measured by the milestones of our children than our own lives. When I first entered this office as Montana’s 24th governor, the sounds of young children laughing and playing rang through our household. While those sounds have since turned into silent eyerolls and embarrassment at my dad jokes as my children have turned into teenagers, they are still a constant reminder of the humbling privilege I’ve had to protect and advance the state that gave me the opportunity to go from delivering newspapers to the governor’s house as a child to living and raising our three children in it.
In these past eight years, this state and its people have inspired me, challenged me, and made me a better public servant. In many ways, we have grown up together. And in many ways, we have tackled today’s needs always with an eye toward improving the Montana our kids and grandkids will inherit.
We made record investments in the great equalizer of public education, ensuring that every child – no matter their background or where they live – has a chance to succeed. We are investing $175 million more each year in K-12 schools than when I first took office and froze college tuition in six out of the eight years. The number of high school students participating in dual enrollment more than doubled, saving Montana families over $7 million a year on tuition costs. Our K-12 schools are meeting broadband connectivity goals and more kids have access to healthy school meals.
These investments in our future are also investments in our economy. Earn-while-you-learn apprenticeships have increased each year I’ve been in office, also diversifying into high-demand fields and helping businesses find skilled workers. We put shovels to dirt on the single largest infrastructure investment to date and created good-paying construction jobs across the state. Through the Main Street Montana Project, we cut red tape to make government more efficient and increase opportunities for businesses to put more Montanans to work.
With the seventh fastest wage growth in nation over the past decade, a diversifying economy, and unemployment levels restored to near-normal levels, Montana is well-positioned to continue on the road of future prosperity. And with a state budget that is the envy of the nation – with ample reserves and a wildfire fund that can pay for four average wildfire seasons – there is no need to raise taxes on hardworking families or make cuts to essential services.
Montanans have greater access to quality, affordable health care than they did eight years ago. Medicaid expansion has not only provided lifesaving care to one in 10 Montanans, we haven’t lost one rural hospital, we created over 9,000 new jobs, and we added $600 million in economic output to the state’s economy each year. We lowered premiums on the individual marketplace, invested in suicide prevention efforts, and worked together as Montanans to prevent our hospitals from overflowing during a global pandemic.
Montanans can now enjoy an additional 155,000 acres of new public lands to hunt, fish and recreate. Whether that’s making family memories at a new fishing access site or on a working lands conservation easement, we protected – and enhanced – the public lands that belong to all of us and the economic benefits that come with it. At the same time, we managed our forest lands and brought diverse interests together to address challenging issues from climate change, to our own energy future, to protecting our wildlife.
Montana led the nation in shining light on dark money in our elections, became the first to protect net neutrality, permanently put on display the flags of our eight Tribal Nations in front of the State Capitol, and showed the rest of the nation that Republicans and Democrats can still work together to get things done.
I have always believed that the goal of any office holder should be two-fold: to behave in a way you can stand tall and without regret before your children, family and your God, and to leave things better than how you found them. While what we have accomplished together can be measured by numbers or statistics, I hope that it is instead measured by the better state we set out to create, through both the challenges and through the moments of joy and inspiration.
As a kid raised just a few blocks from the governor’s house, in a state where the improbable was achievable, it has been a humbling privilege to serve as your Governor. The future holders of this office will inherit a better state for our kids and grandkids. To keep leaving it better, let us never lose sight of the opportunity and feeling of promise every kid growing up here deserves.
Steve Bullock was Montana’s Democratic governor for the last eight years.